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Modeling Play in Early Infant Development

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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00635

The stability of infants’ exploratory play is related to longer-term cognitive development

 Paul Muentener1*, Elise Herrig2 and  Laura Schulz2
  • 1Department of Psychology, Tufts University, United States
  • 2Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, United States

In this longitudinal study we examined the stability of exploratory play in infancy and its relation to cognitive development in early childhood. We assessed infants’ (N = 130, mean age at enrollment = 12.02 months, SD = 3.5 months; range: 5 - 19 months) exploratory play four times over nine months. Exploratory play was indexed by infants’ attention to novelty, inductive generalizations, efficiency of exploration, face preferences, and imitative learning. We assessed cognitive development at the fourth visit for the full sample, and again at age three for a subset of the sample (n = 38). The only one of the five measures that was stable over infancy was the efficiency of exploration. Additionally, infants’ efficiency score predicted vocabulary size and distinguished at-risk infants recruited from early intervention sites from those not at risk. Follow-up analyses at age three provided additional evidence for the importance of the efficiency measure: more efficient exploration was correlated with higher IQ scores. These results suggest that the efficiency of infants’ exploratory play can be informative about longer-term cognitive development.

Keywords: Exploratory play, cognitive development, Infancy, IQ, Longitudinal Studies

Received: 30 Jun 2017; Accepted: 16 Apr 2018.

Edited by:

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Temple University, United States

Reviewed by:

Jennifer B. Wagner, College of Staten Island, United States
Ora Oudgenoeg-Paz, Utrecht University, Netherlands  

Copyright: © 2018 Muentener, Herrig and Schulz. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Paul Muentener, Tufts University, Department of Psychology, 490 Boston Ave., Medford, 02155, MA, United States,